Hanoi: Vietnam on Tuesday showed off its two most powerful warships in the first-ever port call to the Philippines but an official said it was not trying to challenge China`s superior naval forces amid tension in the South China Sea.
Hanoi invited the diplomatic community to its Russian-built missile-guided frigates docked in Manila Bay at the start of a three-day goodwill visit.
China lays claim to almost all of the entire South China Sea, believed to be rich minerals and oil-and-gas deposits. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan also have claims, creating one of Asia`s biggest possible flashpoints.
"We are trying to hold joint patrols and operations in the Spratlys, including search-and-rescue operations," said a Philippine naval official, referring to a disputed island chain. He declined to be identified because he was not authorised to talk to the press.
"We are not trying to challenge China`s naval superiority in the disputed area. We have no intention to heighten any tension. These are peaceful activities, like sharing of experiences and best practices."
The two 100-metre-(330-ft-) long Russian-built warships are equipped with stealth technology to display a minimal profile on enemy radar screens. They have anti-ship missiles and anti-submarine warfare helicopters.
Concern is growing about an escalation in disputes in the South China Sea even as claimants work to establish a binding code of conduct to resolve them.
"We hope all sides can do more to increase mutual trust and safeguard regional peace and stability," China`s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a daily press briefing, when asked about the visit.
China on Monday hit back at "irresponsible remarks" by the United States, which has called on Beijing to stop a land reclamation project on a reef.
"The first port call is a positive and good sign of the improving and deepening relations between the Philippine Navy and Vietnam People`s Navy," said Philippine Lieutenant Commander Marineth Domingo.
In March, the two navies held staff-to-staff talks to step up exchanges in intelligence and information, naval technology and training.
Three months later, Vietnamese and Philippine troops got together on a disputed island to play soccer and volleyball and drink beer in a get-together Philippine officials said proved there could be harmony despite a web of overlapping claims.
China dismissed the meetings as a "clumsy farce".